Toronto to Jasper by Train
We knew that VIA Rail's transcontinental train, The Canadian, would carry us from Toronto to Jasper in three days and two nights. We didn’t know that, with its Silver and Blue service, it would also transport us back in time to an era of unhurried leisure, delicious food, gracious service, and pleasant conversation.
The train’s sleeper-class service includes a comfortable sleeping compartment, elegant meals, and a seat in the observation car. Each three sleepers is served by a dining/observation car, so we never felt crowded. The cars are beautifully-restored 1950’s vintage 'streamliners,' and they’re luxurious by comparison with Amtrak accommodations. Our compartment included two comfortable chairs, a sink and toilet, and a tiny closet. The picture-window was perfect for gawking and gazing, and during the day we were seated in two comfortable armchairs. The shower at the end of the corridor was shared with other passengers in our car. It was large enough to move around in easily, and we never found availability to be a problem.
We were fortunate to be near the rear of the train with easy access to the Park Car. This classic railway car, with its wide, rounded sweep of windows, is a monument to the glory days of train travel. It includes three sections: An upper-deck observation area with panoramic windows, a small downstairs bar and smoking lounge (the Mural Lounge), and a Bullet Lounge to the rear, furnished with comfortable chairs, tables, and couches.
The dining car also provided a gracious view of the past. One can only speak in clichés about the crisply-pressed linen, the comfortable chairs, and the lovely etched-glass panels placed at each end of the car. The meals featured a variety of choices. Breakfast catered both to the bacon-and-egg crowd and to the bagel-and-juice lovers among us. Lunch included a variety of soups, sandwiches, salads, and pastas, hot and cold. Dinner was a more full-dress affair with soup, salad, main course, and dessert. Diners had a variety of main dishes to choose from. And though we’re not wine buffs and can’t comment on the adequacy of the wine list, we were always able to find something we could enjoy with our dinner.
The train traveled through a diversity of scenery. Only a couple of hours past our departure from Toronto, we found ourselves surrounded by the starkly beautiful forests of Ontario. The land seems wild and remote, its beauty enhanced by rocky gorges and the flash of hundreds of lakes, large and small. Our trip through Ontario was enhanced by two stops. On the evening of Day 1, we stopped at Capreol, Ontario where we enjoyed a twenty-minute opportunity for sunshine and fresh air. On the morning of Day 2, we stopped at Sioux Lookout, Ontario. Our conductor was full of knowledge about the interesting history of this area, which is sacred to the Ojibwa people. We learned that they defeated their enemies, the Lakota, in a decisive battle near the spot where the train stopped.
Our arrival at the edge of the prairie seemed sudden; one minute we were in the woods, the next we had arrived on a typical scene of endless black fields just beginning to turn green under their new crop of wheat. We’d been warned that this part of the trip would be monotonous, but instead we found it pleasant and restful. By the evening of Day 2, we had arrived in Winnipeg, capital of Manitoba, for an hour-long stop and crew change. This provided ample time to admire the beaux-arts train station and to visit Winnipeg’s riverfront mall, adjacent to the train station.
When we awoke on Day 3, we had arrived in Alberta. The land took on a more rolling character, and we looked out onto an open range inhabited by cattle. At mid-morning, we stopped in the suburban station at Edmonton just long enough to glimpse the city’s skyline in the distance. As we left Edmonton we began to watch eagerly for our first glimpse of the Rockies, which we began to see at lunchtime. As the train left the town of Hinton, we began to climb, and we were soon surrounded by the mountains. Glimpses of wildlife abounded as we entered Jasper National Park.
In addition to watching the passing landscapes, we enjoyed getting to know our fellow-passengers. Each breakfast, lunch, and dinner seating gave us the opportunity to talk with new people. Although videos were provided for us in the evenings in the Mural Lounge, we found it much more enjoyable just to sit and talk with our new acquaintances.
When we returned from the Park Car each evening, our chairs had disappeared and our berths were made up and turned down for us. Time to gaze awhile at the moonlit landscape flashing by and drift off to sleep, rocked by the movement of the train.
IF YOU PLAN THIS TRIP: Reserve early. Trains fill up fast. You can arrange to break your journey into several parts, stopping for a while at each place. Accommodations also include single rooms, berths (an economical alternative), and regular rail service. Check for off-season, senior, and other possible discounts. Pack a small bag with your needs for the trip; you’ll be reunited with your luggage at your destination. The VIA website is a goldmine of information: www.viarail.ca